The next morning, Tythel was awoken by Nicandros. He’d let her sleep in some today, and the sun was already filtering well through the water above. “Get some food, girl, and bring your pack. We have work to do. Dress for labor.”
Before she could get her brain coherent enough to say anything, he was gone, and she was left to crawl out of her bedroll and get prepared for the day. She saw members of the leadership council scattered about, talking to their soldiers or retainers at she did, and none of them seemed to be in any great hurry. Tythel assumed Nicandros would fill her in when he saw her.
She was hoping that at some point before the attack on the factory, she’d get some actual time to herself. Karjon’s notebook of research into dragon magic still beckoned her, as well as that mysterious golden egg. The surge of grief that arise from thinking about the egg was strong, but expected, and she was able to ride it out without too much urge to break down into tears again. As hard as it was to think about him being gone, she wanted to start looking at them. If every day continued to involve walking or being busy with some task from the time she was awake to the time she went to bed, however…
Something to worry about later. For now, Tythel finished getting ready for the day went to find Nicandros, who was standing in the middle of what had once been a house, but was now just a circle of low stones. He was shirtless, and she could see covering his body layers of scars in varying degrees of clarity, like the rings of a tree but scored into flesh.
Tythel tilted her head at him as she entered the circle. “What’s going on Nicandros? Council not meeting?”
Nicandros shook his head. “Duchess d’Monchy pointed out you hadn’t gotten much chance to rest, and the soldiers could do with a morale boost of knowing their commanders cared. So they’re spending the day with them, and you’re spending the day with me.” He tossed her a training sword, a wooden stick with a bit of cloth wrapped around the ‘blade’ to dull the blows. “What kind of weapon do you have in that pack?”
“Oh, uh…” She turned down to look at it.
He would have gotten her if not for her hearing’s improvements since the heartfire baptism. As it was, he still moved like a cat, and still came damn close to catching her off guard. She whirled and put her her training sword up just in time to prevent Nicandros’ from striking her across the side. It was an awkward parry, and he quickly recovered to come at her again, landing a sharp blow across her shoulder. She dropped her sword in reflex.
“Ow! Flath, Nicandros, that hurt!” She reached up to rub the appendage as he regarded her cooly.
“If it had been an actual blade, you’d be down an arm. This is your weapons training, girl. You can’t always rely on fire. First lesson: if you have a naked weapon in your hand, you are telling anyone who sees you ‘I am about to fight. If you do not take me seriously, I may kill you.’ The moment your weapon is in your hand, or your opponent has theirs, that very instant, you have started a contest where the loser may die.”
“Okay, okay.” She bent down to pick up her sword. The moment her fingers closed around the hilt, Nicandros brought his down in a quick rap across her back. “Damnit!’ she hissed, standing up abruptly without the blade in her hand and glaring at him. “The flath do you want me to do? I can’t exactly train if I can’t pick up the flathing sword!”
“Do you think your opponent is going to let you pick up a blade after you’ve been disarmed? I’m doing you a favor by at least giving you until you touch it, girl.” For a moment, they shared a glare, then Nicandros’ expression softened. “You’re too valuable to let die, but you’re too powerful to keep in the back lines. We need you fighting. I don’t have time for proper training, so I need to teach you how to survive.”
Tythel felt the anger building up in her and had to set it aside. He was trying to help. “I…okay, I understand.”
“Good. Now you shou-”
Tythel dove for her sword, rolling like she had when Karjon was swatting at her in their games of cat-and-mouse. Nicandros was quick as a snake, but she’d caught him just off guard enough to avoid his cut. She had time to get in a low cut at him, one that came within a foot of his hip, but he blocked the strike and slapped her in the side before she could attack again. “Better,” he growled. “Again.”
The first two hours were spent like that. She didn’t get close to hitting Nicandros during that time, but she managed to get up to a dozen parries in one exchange before she was hit. She’d also been swatted several dozen times, and could feel welts and bruises rising up. Each time, she’d get a quick lesson in what she did wrong, then have to be ready to go ahead. It was a struggle not to think of how much worse it would have felt before she’d been exposed to heartfire.
Several times she thought about asking for a reprieve, but already she suspected the answer would be something along the lines of “do you think you’ll get a break in a real fight, girl?” followed by a strike on her arm or thigh or wherever she wasn’t defending at that instant.
Finally, after what had to be the hundredth time Nicandros had hit her somewhere, he shoved his sword into the sand. “Enough. You’re improving, girl. I think by the time we’re putting you in the field, I won’t have to worry about dying from being a damn fool, at least.”
For a moment, Tythel seriously considered trying to hit Nicandros while he was disarmed, but the gleam in his eye deterred her. She put her training sword in the sand as well. “I’m so happy to learn I won’t be killed by my own idiocy,” she said with a forced cheer, and Nicandros chuckled, “so do you actually want to see what weapons I have?”
He motioned for her to go ahead and, keeping one eye on him as she did in case it was another trap, she opened it up and took out the three tools she had for fighting – the drakesteel dagger, the unlight warhammer stick, and the unlight shield. “I got the last two off one of the soldiers that helped kill Karjon,” she explained as he held up the warhammer stick.
Nicandros nodded, and with a flick of his wrist extended the weapon. Unlight bolts crackled along the head as before, and Tythel realized that warhammer wasn’t quite the right term, it was far too short for that term. He walked over and picked up a loose stone, tossing it into the air and swinging to hit it.
The same surge of energy she’d felt when she’d been been struck burst forth, and the stone was sent flying away far harder than Nicandros’ strength could have accounted for. It hit the water wall, where it made a sideways splash before concussing a passing fish. “Newer model, we haven’t gotten our hands on any of these before,” he commented. With another flick of his wrist, the individual chunks of the hammer collapsed closer together while extending forwards, creating a whip of the unlight. Three shards sat at the tip like a claw. He swung it at another stone, and it grabbed onto it. A third flick, and the whip collapsed back into a long sword, the chunks of metal rotating to have bladed edges outwards.
Tythel’s eyes widened with each transformation. “How do you know how to do that, if it’s a newer version?”
“Alohym weapons all use the same basic techniques,” Nicandros said, collapsing it back to a tube and handing it back to her. “They all have multiple modes, like you saw, and there’s a special twist of the wrist that changes it. While you heal up, I’ll show you how to work them. Then we’ll eat. Then it’s back to teaching you how to fight.”
Tythel groaned at the thought, but went along with it. The wrist flick wasn’t too complicated to learn, although she still needed to try it a few times each try to get it exactly right. Nicandros’ suggested she stay away from the claw-whip form until she had much more practice with it, and she agreed.
The shield was much easier to learn how to activate, but much harder to learn how to use. Unlike every drawing she’d ever seen of a shield, it did not strap across her arm, and instead she held it in what Nicandros called a center grip.
“Center grip is always better than straps. You can use it to cover more of your body by extending your arm, you can bash some fool’s face in with it, and you’ve just got more options. Shield like this will even block arcwand fire. You definitely need to learn to master it. We’ll grab a training shield after lunch.”
Tythel winced again at the thought. “Alright. And then, after dinner, I’d like some time to do something else?” Nicandros quirked an eyebrow at her. When he didn’t speak, she figured that it meant she was alright to continue, “I have my father’s notes on dragonic magic. If ghostfire is what can hurt the ships, I need to learn how to do it.”
Nicandros nodded before she even finished the word need. “That is a reason I’ll never object to. After dinner. Until then, we train.”
Tythel sighed but didn’t argue. She just had to hope that, by the time they were done, she wouldn’t be too tired to read.